My two-year-old son, Philip, began riding a bicycle at the beginning of May.
I don’t mean a bike with training wheels. I don’t mean a push bike. I mean a bike the way you and I define bike. Of course, this isn’t something he just did one day. We’d been working up to the miraculum eventus. This time last year I purchased a Razor scooter for him. I did that because at the park one day he took off on some kid’s three-wheeled scooter and had that thing wired in about 40 feet. So I figured if we were going to do this, I might as well get him something that would offer a challenge. By the end of the week he was riding it to and from the park a mile from home.
Meanwhile, he was working on his hi-rev pedal stroke on the tricycles at his preschool. Well, that and learning how to high-side by taking turns at high speed.
So for his July birthday his grandparents sent him a Skuut push bike. Initially, I had to assemble the thing with the frame flipped so that I could position the saddle lower than is possible in its ordinary set up. He was too small even for that, at first. But by the end of September we were heading out for his first little rides. It remained equal parts curiosity and frustration for him for at least two more months. Then, somewhere around the beginning of the year, he started to get the hang of it and it became a fun delivery device.
I got stopped at the park when people saw him tear by on either the Skuut or his scooter. The most frequent question was, “How old is he?” That one is followed closely by, “Is he small for his age?” This latter came from parents who were thinking, ‘There’s no way that kid is only two or three.” I admit, it was fun to watch other parents look and point.
One night in April I was cruising around the Specialized web site (I do this for fun) and happened across their kids’ bikes. Now, I’d been told they made kids bikes, and I’d even seen them in bike shops, but I’d forgotten that there might be an intersection point between them and my son. Then I spied the Hot Rock, a kids’ bike with 12-inch wheels.
I was on the phone the next day. To be honest, I’m not even sure what I paid; I just gave them my card. It could have been full retail; I didn’t care—still don’t.
In the process of assembling the bike I took the package with the training wheels and dropped it in the trash. I didn’t think they would present any sort of help. He had all the requisite skills—the balance, the ability to pedal and the sense of what’s fun.
We called him into the garage to see the bike. I’ll always regret not having taken a photo of the look on his face when he first saw it, but the shot above is pretty close. We could have used it to illustrate the combined emotions of excitement and delight in a Wikipedia entry. The saddle, I found, had a handy little grip at the back, just the perfect place to hold the bike and give it a good push, which is exactly what I did once he climbed aboard. He rode around for about five minutes, came rolling back up to me, put his feet down and announced, “I done.”
With each successive ride he lasted longer and longer. Within a week we were riding the mile to the local park and back. Of all his toys, his bike is his favorite, overshadowing his love of Hot Wheels cars and balls of any shape or size.
Because I’m a cyclist this is something of a dream come true for me.
The odds that my wife and I would have a child who would take an interest in cycling were great. The odds against us having a child who would learn how to ride at such a young age were astronomical. So when I tell you that I feel like we hit the lottery, I’m aware that winning the lottery isn’t all strawberries and champagne.
“Professionals” have expressed concern that his speech acquisition isn’t optimal, that he’s not potty-trained yet, that he’s not big on sharing. My sense is that no one gets a child who scores all 10s, and while I’m not trying to make excuses for him, I’m aware that those who win the lottery are often no better for it. Winning the lottery, based on anecdotal evidence, does not improve a life. If anything, it makes it more difficult because it gives you a different—unfamiliar—set of problems to solve.
There’s a cosmic irony at work here. It’s easy to joke that the thing I most wanted to impart to him was cycling. It’s not. I want him to be a good person, not just decent, but someone others will look at years after I’m gone and say that he is a person with a moral existence, an internal compass that guides his actions. Athletic prowess, as exhibited by the spectacularly compensated stars of the NBA, NFL, etc., rarely seems to be a route to a considered life.
If I’d had the temerity to ask God for this, one could say he played a joke on me. But a desire to stoke a fire for cycling within my son has never been far from my mind. But here’s where I turn the table. My challenge isn’t just to show Philip that riding bikes is fun. No, my job is to walk him through the lessons of my life, to take him down the routes in which cycling taught me the lessons that guide my actions today.
My father keeps asking me to teach Philip that Sunday isn’t Tuesday. What he means is that he wants Philip to have a spiritual upbringing. For him, that means Catholic. What cycling taught me is that I can have Sunday any day of the week.
I’m just not yet sure how to teach that.